The Libdem immigration policy is confusing


11:00 am - April 27th 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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I have a genuine question regarding Lib Dem immigration proposals. Specifically, that employers can only employ foreign workers who have permits to work in that employer’s particular locality.

Presumably this is to stop legal migrants concentrating their labour in one area. But this seems bizarre: don’t legal migrant workers just go where the jobs are? So isn’t telling them they have to stay in one place going to make labour supply more rigid, and thus the labour market more inefficient?

Won’t this counter the economic benefits of migrant workers that Nick Clegg rightly trumpets? Aren’t the Lib Dems being, erm, statist and refusing to let the market do it’s thing – like, y’know, liberals would advocate?

More generally, isn’t this proposal reminiscent of Elizabethan poor laws that effectively forced potential workers to stay in their home parish and not follow the jobs – thus restricting economic growth tremendously?

And wasn’t the over-turning of those poor laws a major aim of 18th Century economists like Adam Smith and David Hume? Thinkers who stand at the foundation of modern political and economic liberalism?

Presumably Lib Dem proposals can’t be aimed at illegal immigrants, however. Because by definition you don’t ask for an illegal immigrant’s work permit. So telling employers they must ask for such permits won’t affect the employment of workers here illegaly.

Hence I’m struggling to see why Lib Dem policy is not guilty of being either illiberal and economically counter-productive, or just pointless. And honestly, I’m not being snide: I’m genuinely confused.

And I’m not trying to give support to Labour or the Tories. They are dancing to Nick Griffin’s tune far more enthusiastically than Clegg and Co.

But could this be a modern manifestation of what Hume called ‘Jealousy of Trade’? When economic logic dictates one thing but political demands dictate another…and politics trumps economics. To everyone’s disadvantage?

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Immigration ,Libdems ,Westminster

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Reader comments


The way regional migration works in Australia is that a) most foreign permanent migrants are granted national permits that don’t have specific regional requirements but b) if you’re not quite high enough on the points system to qualify for an unlimited permit, then you can still get residency as long as you’re willing to relocate to a region with specific skill shortages and are granted sponsorship by a regional government.

(so pretty much any UK university graduate can get permanent Australian residency if they’re willing to spend two years working in a mining town in Western Australia, but moving straight to Melbourne and working in a bank would require a much more specific and comprehensive set of skills).

The inner functionings of the Lib Dem system aren’t detailed in the manifesto, but if it works something like the one above then it won’t be insane.

@johnb – Hmmm…an ‘internal’ points system re. jobs in different parts of the country? Well, that might be better than something that sounds like the South African ‘Pass Laws’. Perhaps Clegg could explain a bit more on Thursday.

@johnb – Hmmm…an ‘internal’ points system re. jobs in different parts of the country? Well, that might be better than something that sounds like the South African ‘Pass Laws’. Perhaps Clegg could explain a bit more on Thursday.

3. Hopefully the economics debate won’t get blindsided by yet another immigrations question. Priorities really must start to come to the fore.

“Priorities really must start to come to the fore.”

For Murdoch Inc, they did last Thursday – a convenient question for Dave on immigration…the only area he scores highly on, even if that question was asked in the first debate already!

Why is it confusing?

There are areas of the UK – Scotland being one – which need an influx of immigrants in certain job fields. Equally there are others – London, for example – where it’s not so necessary. So if it’s possible, why not divert legal immigration to the areas in which it’s needed?

@2 in fairness to the LDs, even if their final system is more restrictive than the Aussie one, it’s not the bloody Pass Laws: there’s no suggestion that immigrants’ movements would be restricted, just that medium- or long-term employment visas would in some way be tied to their primary place of employment being in a certain location. Work migrants’ visas are already tied to working for a specific employer, but that doesn’t mean we have Pass Laws to prevent people with work visas for Citi in London visiting John O’Groats or Land’s End…

johnb – fair do’s – Maybe Clegg could explain it a bit better (even if it does turn out to be flawed)…Cameron’s twice got in the cheap shot about ‘border posts on the M6’ already

It’s not only confusing, it’s completely bonkers.

“Maybe Clegg could explain it a bit better (even if it does turn out to be flawed)…Cameron’s twice got in the cheap shot about ‘border posts on the M6? already”

Clegg could do with explaining it better, that’s for sure. I think he has on the press circuit, but not where it’s counted so far. But to be honest I don’t think he cares, most people want to hear that immigrants will be restricted, unfortunately.

What Lee said; until John made the comment above, I didn’t understand the bloody policy either. It is, frankly, an area I couldn’t care less about, but I, unfortunately, suspect Clegg is consciously highlighting the restrictive bit that’ll apply to very few acutal people as he knows that the rest of the, fairly liberal, policy is going to be less popular.

But essentially Paul, you may be correct, political necessity trumps economic expediency. I like the open one-off amnesty, I don’t like the other restrictions, I don’t care enough to have learnt the minutae.

The LD manifesto is “mood music”, nothing more.
They had no expectation that they might be in govt.
Now they’re under scrutiny – d’oh.

Still, all to play for tomorrow.

Meanwhile I am placing a series of bets on safe Tory, Lab and LD seats within the odds range of 10/1 – 20/1 on, hoping thus to make a fast, low risk (though not risk free!) but certainly tax-free 5-10% return between now and May 7.

Cjcjc. You’d be very wrong there, a hung parliament with an increased LD presence has been a very likely outcome for ages, hence the concentration on the key policy commitments and very careful costing of everything.

But, y’know, don’t let evidence get in the way of a good talking point.

Cjcjc: Have you read it?

One reason I don’t mind engaging with you is that you have frequently exhibited an ability to check facts and then think critically and thoroughly. Having read the LD manifesto (and, afaict, all the others released though I’ll admit I failed to finish the UKIP one. More anger-making than the BNP’s) I can’t match what you write her to an actual examination of the text.

15. Herbert Smith

I’m not sure why an older person aged between 60 and 65 should lose their freedom pass. That is unfair on the older person who just needs the pass to get around to see older relatives etc.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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